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Antoine César Becquerel


IT is with regret that we record the death of the noted French physicist, Prof. Becquerel, which occurred on January 18, in Paris. Antoine César Becquerel was born at Châtillon-sur-Loing, in the Loiret department, March 8, 1788. After completing a course in the Paris Polytechnic, he entered, in 1808, the Imperial Engineer Corps. It was no time of idleness for young officers, and he was shortly in active service, taking part in the entire Spanish campaign under General Luchet. Here he was present at the sieges of Torbosa, Tarragona, Lagonte, and Valencia, and manifested such marked abilities that in 1812 he returned to Paris to receive the rank of captain, and be presented with the Cross of Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, from Napoleon's own hands. In the following year he was sent by the Emperor to complete the fortifications on the German frontier. At the fall of the empire, in 1815, he resigned his position as chief of battalion in the Engineer Corps, and devoted himself exclusively to physical and chemical research, accepting a position as teacher in the Musée d'Histoire Naturelle, of Paris. In 1837 he was made professor in this institution and occupied this position up to the time of his death. Shortly after entering upon his scientific career he commenced the remarkable series of investigations in electricity and magnetism which have been uninterruptedly continued during the past half-century, and have linked his name closely with every branch of these two leading departments of physics. In thermo-electricity Becquerel carried out a large number of experiments on the currents caused by heating both a single metal and two metals in contact, and formulated the well-known thermoelectric series, bismuth, platinum, lead, tin, gold, silver, copper, zinc, iron, and antimony. In his studies on atmospheric electricity he proved that the water of the ocean and the solid crust of the earth are in opposite electrical conditions, a fact which explains the positive state of the air immediately above the sea, while at a distance from the ocean the positive change is noticeable only at a certain height above the earth. The physiological effects of the electric current formed likewise the subject of numerous observations, and by means of delicate apparatus he was able to demonstrate the development of minute currents by the various operations of life, the movement of the muscles, &c. In view of the purely chemical character of these operations these observations harmonised perfectly with the theory which he advanced that electric currents were produced by all chemical unions and decompositions.

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Antoine César Becquerel. Nature 17, 244–245 (1878).

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